“We lived in San Diego all of ’97,” says guitarist Whit Smith, one-third of the country-swing/hot-jazz group Hot Club of Cowtown. “We arrived New Year’s Day, 1997, and we lived in Pacific Beach.”
They were originally a duo, featuring Smith and fiddler Elana Fremerman (aka Elana James). James' mother played violin, encouraging her daughter to take Suzuki-style classical lessons in their hometown of Kansas City, Mo. She later studied jazz violin.
The two started the group in New York and then moved west to build up their repertoire. “In no time, we were playing for tips in Balboa Park, and we played the Ocean Beach farmers’ market. And Café 976, when it was about half the size. Mostly, we played for tips. We didn’t even have a PA system — we just yelled out the words — and people would come and give us money, and all of the farmers’ market people would give us, you know, bread and apples and whatever. It was total bartering for a pleasant life. It was good.”
In 1998, Smith and James relocated to Austin, Texas, and added bassist Jake Erwin.
In 2004, the group opened for the Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson tour. The following year, Dylan asked Elana (whose last name had been changed to James, from her middle name Jamie) to join his band for a tour.
Whit Smith & Elana began touring together in early 2007 with Elana's new trio under the name Elana James. In 2008, Hot Club of Cowtown also returned to the road.